Ever since I took a look at the reference NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti4600 which ushered in yet another era of GPU performance and graphics processing power, I've been itching to take a look at more examples of the technology. As we saw back then, NVIDIA had the entire range covered with two initial cards, the Ti4400 and Ti4600 and the possibility of a third, slower variant, the Ti4200.
It's the middle of the three, the Ti4400, that made it to Hexus first following the initial look at the range topper and Visiontek are the manufacturer. I'll spare discussion of the GPU itself since I covered it in detail in the original Ti4600 review which you can find here.
Suffice to say the Visiontek is fairly faithful to the reference board we saw before. It would be worth laying some money on Visiontek actually making those initial reference boards for NVIDIA since the layout and especially heatsink design are identical to the reference board. As you can see from the following shot, the heatsink is identical with only a small Visiontek logo differentiating this card from the original Ti4600.
However being a Ti4400, there is a difference. While the Ti4600 used 128MB of Samsungs latest and greatest BGA memory, rated to 2.8ns, the Ti400 uses lower rated modules at a comparatively lowly 3.6ns. This equates to approximately 555MHz (1000 / 3.6 multiplied by 2 for DDR) which is spot on for the stock memory clock of 550MHz (275MHz DDR).
Without any kind of cooling, you wouldn't expect the modules to go much higher. But on the Visiontek, as you'll see later, that isn't necessarily the case. The new TinyBGA (ball grid array) memory runs very cool so active or passive cooling isn't necessarily required and certainly helps to keep costs down.
Here's a close up shot of one of the modules where you can pick out the 36 that designates the 3.6ns rating.
As for overall layout, you can see that it looks strikingly similar to the reference Ti4600.
As you can see, the card is equipped with regular D-Sub output, DVI output from the integrated TMDS on the core and also an S-Video/Composite TV-Out connector using a Connexant CX25871. The TV-Out quality is excellent.
Before we move onto the formal specification, here's a quick look at the features for a recap.
• AGP 4x compatible with fast writes
As with the Ti4600, the highlights are the Accuview anti-aliasing logic, the TMDS and HDTV logic and nView display tech and the LMA II crossbar. We covered them in the initial Ti4600 review so again, refresh your memory if you need to by looking here.
• 256-bit 3D and 2D graphics accelerator
• NVIDIA nView™ display technologies
• Lightspeed Memory Architecture™ II
• Dual Integrated 350MHz DACs
• Accuview Antialiasing™
• High Definition Video Processing Engine
• TV Out connector
• DVI connector
Here's a quick look at the formal specification on the card.
• Controller: NVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4400
As you can see, another mention for the impressive dual display capabilities of these new card with dual 350MHz RAMDAC's that can run displays at different resolutions, refresh rates and colour depths. This used to be the preserve of super high end hardware so its appearance in regular consumer products is to be applauded.
• Bus Type AGP
• Memory 128MB DDR
• Core Clock 275MHz
• Memory Clock 550MHz DDR memory
• Dual RAMDAC 350MHz (each)
• API Support Direct-X®, Open GL ICD® for Windows
• Connectors VGA, S-Video, DVI
• 1.12 trillion operations/sec.
• 125 Million vertices/sec setup
• 8.8GB/second memory bandwidthv
The card is a 1.5V AGP device rather than the fairly old 3.3V cards we used to see and with AGP4X and Fast Writes.
Installation and Bundle
Installation of the card was simple in the test motherboard, a new EPoX 8K3A that uses the KT333 chipset from VIA. Removal of the previous card, the old favourite GeForce3 Ti550 from Gainward was simple and the Visiontek was screwed in place. The board features an AGP retention mechanism that holds the Ti4400 in place without any problems.
Nothing left to do after that other than install the drivers. I used the 27.42 Detonator's during testing and they installed without issue. The bundle is fairly sparse but you get everything you need.
As you can see, the card, a couple of CD's (PowerDVD and the driver and util CD) and a quick install guide are the highlights of the retail box you'll buy. No games but the lack of them helps keep the cost down.
We'll take a look at performance in 3 ways on the same graphs, stock performance at default card clocks (275/550), overclocked performance and also up against a stock clocked GeForce3 Ti500. The Ti series of GeForce4 cards are the replacements for the GeForce3 Ti500 so we'll pit it up against one for good measure.
All benchmarks for both cards were done on the same motherboard and same driver revision (27.42 Detonator XP) for parity. All benchmarks were run 3 times and the top and bottom results discarded. If any results deviated by more than 1% either way, they were discarded and another set of runs done to get a good set of 3 to work from.
V-Sync was forced off in both OpenGL and Direct3D but all other driver options were left at default to highlight out of the box performance without tweaking. Finally, a reboot was done between each game test to be fair. However with a user not rebooting between playing games (I hope!), the value of rebooting between tests is only for consistency with previous reviews.
Overclocking the card was simple using RivaTuner RC10 and its low level overclocking utility which sets the card clocks directly without having to reinitialise the driver. The card responded and performed well when overclocked and the maximum stable clock that ran everything flawlessly was 303/688.
As you can see, the memory overclocked very well and GeForce4 Ti4600 speeds (300/650) were easily obtainable and very stable. The core clock wasn't so impressive but since Visiontek are using the better cores in their Ti4600's, you have to hit a ceiling somewhere otherwise paying extra for the Ti4600 would be pointless. A nice overclock all the same although as we'll see, maybe it's not needed.
Before we hit the numbers, here's a quick rundown of the test system.
• EPoX 8K3A, KT333 Chipset, Socket A AMD DDR Motherboard
• Unlocked AMD Athlon XP1500+ Processor (1.33GHz, 10 x 133)
• 2 x 256Mb Samsung PC2700 DDR Memory Modules (CAS2)
• Visiontek Xtasy GeForce4 Ti4400 128MB
• Gainward Ti550 GeForce3 Ti500 64MB
• Adaptec 39160 PCI SCSI Dual Channel U160 controller
• 2 x 73Gb Seagate Cheetah U160 10,000rpm SCSI disks
• Plextor 12/10/32S SCSI CDRW
• Pioneer 6x Slot-load SCSI DVD
• Creative Soundblaster Audigy Player Retail
• Windows XP Professional Build 2600.xpclient.010817-1148
Nothing abnormal in the test system I usually use so on with the numbers.
• DetonatorXP 27.42 NVIDIA drivers
• Aquamark v2.3
• Quake3 v1.30
• 3DMark 2001 Professional Second Edition
• Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Demo
I'll start of with the fans favourite, 3DMark 2001 SE. 3DMark 2001 is a full system bench with some tests being reliant on graphics horsepower, some on CPU speed, some on system throughput and memory bandwidth. A nice suite of tests.
As we can see, the Visiontek offers up a large performance increase over the Ti500 score. The dual vertex shaders, in the NV25 core that the card uses, help the card pull way ahead of the Ti500 in the Dragothic individual tests and the High Detail tests of the other games. As we overclock the card, the gains are modest. Despite the card clock increases, we'd maybe be expecting a bigger score. However as you scale the NV25 it becomes massively CPU limited. The card is crying out for a bigger CPU here and overclocking the CPU on the test system to 1666Mhz (XP2000) enabled me to break the 10,000 point barrier without overclocking the card at all or tweaking the driver.
The Visiontek just sits and waits most of the time in 3DMark while my little XP1500 struggles to keep up!
Next up, Serious Sam 2. Again, like 3DMark, this is quite the system test with improvements in all areas of your system showing frame rate speedups. The Visiontek excels here as we'll see.
In the lower resolution of 1024x768, the scores are fairly close and are spaced out fairly evenly. However at high resolution the power of the Visiontek and it's NV25 GPU are evident. It manages to beat the Ti500 GeForce3 without any difficulty and it also shows us that despite the low CPU clock, the scores still scale decently with card clocking.
It's a balance between CPU limitation and card clocks here and overclocking our test CPU would have lifted frame rates more than card clocking did.
On any decent host platform, the Visiontek will play Serious Sam 2 at any resolution with all the rendering features enabled and at high quality. Given a faster CPU, I'd be happy playing SS2 at 1600x1200 without fear of slowdown without clocking the card at all.
On Quake3, our OpenGL based benchmark that has been around quite a while, we should see stunning performance from the Visiontek since the benchmark runs incredibly on the GeForce3 Ti500 test card we use.
At the lowest resolution of 1024x768, all 3 test setups are massively quick and as you can see, despite overclocking the card, the Visiontek is most definitely CPU limited at 1024x768. The score doesn't budge even when overclocked.
As we up the resolution, especially to 1600x1200x32 with all features on, the muscle of the card really shines through with close to double the frame rate of the Ti500. At this resolution we aren't CPU limited so the card gets to stretch its legs and the card overclock shows a decent increase.
A faster host processor, especially a quick P4, would push these scores way over the 200fps mark as the card craves CPU horsepower behind it.
Lastly we have Aquamark. Aquamark, based on Aquanox is a DX8 based benchmark and it loves hardware that can accelerate the DX8 shader architecture in hardware, something the GeForce3 Ti500 and our Visiontek review card do extremely well. Anything over 50 frames per second is a good score for this benchmark so keep an eye on the following graph.
As you can see, the scores scale linearly and over 60 frames per second when overclocked is something the card can be proud of. The benchmark loves the beefed up shader hardware on the NV25 and uses to goo effect, pumping out the highest score yet seen at Hexus for my AMD test CPU.
As with all the other benchmarks, when you make the card work hard, it appreciates a quicker CPU to feed it data as fast as possible, otherwise it will sit there and wait. Increasing CPU performance would help the Aquamark scores immensely and it would be possible to break 70 frames per second with the Visiontek on better base hardware.
Performance from the Visiontek is stellar, there is no question about it. Infact, I hinder performance running with the XP1500 since the card sits and waits for data from it for the most part. You really need a good CPU to make the most of these cards but on the flip side, that can be a good thing.
If you buy a Ti4400 or Ti4600 and are using it on a lowly CPU like an XP1500 be confident that your new graphics card will still be scaling even if you upgrade to a massively fast P4 or XP system. There isn't a consumer processor available today that can satiate the Ti's desire for geometry and texture data.
The card took everything I threw at it and didn't flinch. It's been a long time since I've seen a proper consumer card like that. Scaling up to 1700MHz on the XP1500 and still the card kept scaling at stock card clocks. That tells you something about the power of the Xtasy Ti4400 that Visiontek have created.
The advanced rendering logic on the NV25 GPU make for some serious performance. Dual vertex shaders, upgraded pixel shader, new 4 split memory crossbar along with Accuview antialiasing with the new 4XS option and nView make for a very nice graphics card.
Fast. That's about all you need to know about these cards at this point in time! Of course there are other considerations to go over should you wish to make a purchase and the Visiontek wins on all but one, price. The TV-Out from the Connexant was excellent, the speed is there in spades and it overclocks fairly well.
Only price lets it down and with other Ti4400's howevering around the £260 in the UK depending on manufacturer, bundle and card features, we can expect the Visiontek to be priced similarly. Given that Visiontek don't have much presence in Europe from what I can gather, finding the card might be a struggle if you live outside the US.
For what you get for your money and the expected price and features of other Ti4400's from other manufacturers I don't think we can offer Visiontek an award for this card just yet.
Very fast and most likely very expensive (like all Ti4400's). It was a pleasure to test and a great to see a card from one of the largest graphics card manufacturers in the world and one we haven't seen at Hexus in the past. Faster than a Ti500 and Radeon 8500 by an appreciable margin but as always, you pay the price to own one.
• The speed. It's there in spades.
• TV-Out quality
• DVI output
• Limited availability
• The bundle lacks some excitement